I see so many movies and watch so much TV, I sometimes find it hard to find the time to scribble aka type my random thoughts about said pieces of pop culture.
I am in fact so behind that I thought I would do short reviews of two of the movies I’ve seen recently and put them in one post. Yeah. I know…lazy lazy lazy.
First up – Magic Mike
I really enjoyed Steven Soderbergh’s trip into the action film with his film Haywire which came out earlier this year. Was it a brilliant trip into the psyche or something I will sit back and mentally chew over and over, no. But it was fun. And that’s pretty much the same way I feel about Magic Mike.
I don’t really want to get into the whole argument of whether or not this movie is about equal opportunity ogling or whether this is a victory for feminists who have had to endure so much female flesh being thrown upon the big screen, without much reciprocity from the men. I don’t know if any of that was really in Soderbergh’s mind when he made this film – or if he was just looking to tell a story that happened to involved A LOT of naked men.
I prefer to think the latter.
Co-produced and starring Channing Tatum, Magic Mike is an all American story of boy strips until he saves enough to start his own custom furniture business. But the economy being what it is, that business is just out of reach. While working on one of his many jobs, Mike befriends a young kid, Adam (a mostly forgettable Alex Pettyfer) who is just lost enough for stripping to look like a good idea. And why not? You get to desired by women who shove cash down your thong every night and party every day. All you have to do is show off the goods and make the women feel special. Adam gets caught up in it all, like drug caught up, and the dirty side of the fabulous life style becomes all too evident.
Although I’m sure many people will see it because of the hot guys, where Magic Mike finds its winning moments are in the little things – the first time you see Joe Manganiello’s character is possibly the funniest moments in the entire movie, but blink and you’ll miss it. Tatum’s treatment of his truck is a lovely character note. And the scene where Channing Tatum goes to the bank to get a small business loan is sexier than any scene where he strips. Tatum’s charm is undeniable, as are his dance skills, but the film really belongs to Matthew McConaughey.
As Dallas, the increasingly sketchy owner of the Xquiste, the club where all the men take off their clothes to music, McConaughey is in his element. Shirtless about 99% of the film and wearing some of the more interesting outfits, he has no shame. Nor should he. He looks amazing. But it’s his verbal dexterity and his ability to seduce both men and women that should shame him. It only till it’s too late that Mike realizes that his boss/future partner is a dangerous man in short shorts.
You also will see far more of McConaughey’s butt than perhaps you wanted.
No point in going into Mike’s relationship with Adam’s disapproving sister Brooke, played by Cody Horn.
She’s fine and they aren’t awful together, but there isn’t much heat between then and even though you know where it’s all going to go, you kinda hope things will take a bit of a turn before the end.
Still a good movie…
Next – To Rome With Love
Midnight in Paris was a huge success, both financially and critically. It was nominated for multiple Oscars and even won an award for Best Original Screen play. So it’s not at all surprisingly that Woody Allen would try to recreate that magic.
He almost succeeds in his latest, To Rome With Love. It continues his love affair with Europe, where he’s filmed several movies in London, one in Paris, one in Barcelona, and now Rome. And it brings back his signature style of multiple stories that never quite converge but aren’t disparate enough to seem wholly unrelated. And he dips into the bag of magical realism that suffused all of Midnight in Paris, but to a lesser effect this time around.
The different stories are as follows: A newly married couple is separated and each manages to have a day full of very educational surprises including a prostitute (played by a very game Penelope Cruz), a everyman (Roberto Benigni) all of a sudden becomes the most famous person in Rome and finds celebrity a bit different than expected, a retired American opera producer (Allen) thinks he’s discovered the next Caruso in his future in-law but he’s stymied by the singer’s limitations, and a young architect (Jesse Eisenberg) falls in love with his girlfriend’s visiting friend (Ellen Page), despite being warned by an older and wiser guide (Alec Baldwin).
Some of these tales are more successful than others. Although it was probably the least fleshed out of all, I enjoyed the story of the newlyweds. It encapsulated every pitfall of getting married when you are too young to know the world, but so desperately want more. Both husband and wife experience a different side of Rome than intended and grow up a bit in the process. I never thought I wouldn’t hate watching Benigni, but his utter confusion at the throngs of paparazzi following his every move, questioning his every action, devouring every aspect of his life, was actually palatable. His story had the clearest moral – life sucks for everyone, so it’s better to be rich and famous in the interim.
The funniest story was Woody’s own. Although the story didn’t start with him as one of the focal points, I suppose you can’t fault the man for moving the attention from Allison Pill who played his daughter, and her Italian fiance, to Allen and his new operatic find. This is the story where you find the most Allenesque touches, particularly the multitude of jokes about death, something I have come to expect in Allen’s movies. Judy Davis is back working with Allen as his long suffering wife who is, of course, a shrink, who cannot help but analyze to death every thing he says and does. You will never think of Pagliacci the same way again, or without wanting to wash your hair.
But the story that I found most interesting was the one with Jessie Eisenberg. Whereas in the past, the Ellen Page character would have been free to spout her randomly collected bits of intellect, seeming smart and free and exciting without anyone questioning her,
Alec Baldwin is there at every turn to remind Eisenberg that what he’s falling for is a careful construct designed to entice him, but without much real substance. Baldwin points out every time Page’s mercurial character, Monica, changes to fit what she thinks will be sexy and he, rightfully, disdains her. I found Monica just dreadful. I’ve met women like her who have some sort of mystical hold on men without really having anything to back it up. These sorts of women have shown up time and time again in Allen’s films to varying degrees, even Annie Hall herself was a more charming version, but it’s rare that these women are called to task for their deficiencies. It’s wonderful when it happens. Not sure if that is why Baldwin is my favorite part of the film, or because he’s just so winning in the role.
The magical realism shows up in To Rome With Love in both Baldwin’s character – he’s not really there, spouting his wisdom to Eisenberg alone…but visible to everyone when it suits the story, and in the way time is treated in this movie. Some stories seem to take place in a day, some a week, some a month. They are all interwoven, but take place independently of each other. Time exists, but at a different pace for all.
Everything works, but seems just a bit too light and fluffy to have much substance. Which is fine – Midnight in Paris wasn’t the next Manhattan or Crimes and Misdemeanors. But To Rome with Love just seemed a bit less substantial, its stories a bit less important and without much focus or overarching central message to hold everything together.
Rome, like Paris, exists for Allen as a magical place, outside of time and reality. But he seems to understand the magic of Paris just a little bit more.